Paul Hewitt could pick up only so much on tape about his new players at George Mason.
It took one practice to figure out Ryan Pearson was more athletic than he looked on film. And he required even less time to determine exactly where the senior forward grew up.
“He can get on people pretty good,” Hewitt said. “There’s no mistaking he’s from New York. He can talk trash with the best of them. I told him at practice, when he was giving one of my young guys a hard time and giving him the blues, I said ‘Keep it up, don’t worry about it.’ “
Pearson, of course, plans on causing problems for the rest of the CAA in the months to come.
The senior, a second-team all-conference pick last year when he averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds, is the top returning player from a team coming off a 27-7 season and an appearance in the NCAA tournament round of 32. Any encore, to be certain, won’t be done quietly.
Teammate Mike Morrison offers a description in short bursts: Tough-nosed. Aggressive.
Yet there’s another part of that personality, the one that would pose a question on his Twitter page in late October about whether he should shed his increasingly bountiful beard. (Pearson offered assurances the beard is safe for the the season, assuring “fear the beard” will be a mainstay in Fairfax in the months to come).
“At the same time, he’s another one of the clowns,” Morrison said.
And Pearson knows exactly where he got it from.
“I think it definitely helped me become the player that I am and trying to be that leader on and off the court,” Pearson said. “That New York personality is just so strong. You just can’t deny it. When somebody from New York steps in the room, you just say ‘OK, that guy’s from New York.’ Guys know. They understand.”
Pearson, a Far Rockaway, N.Y., product, made a steady rise from rotational piece as a freshman to a starter as a sophomore. He grew significantly more consistent last season, and his scoring and rebounding totals have improved annually.
It’s a trend that can’t sit well with the rest of the CAA, which must contend with both Pearson’s boisterous personality and his versatile skill set for another season.
“I think he provides a lot of what I saw in Jamie Skeen for VCU last year,” Hofstra coach Mo Cassara said. “I think he’s that guy who’s tough to guard inside but can play outside. He’s a dynamic scorer, he’s a rebounder, he’s a veteran. I think he provides that real tough matchup for so many schools. I think if he’s not the player of the year, he’s certainly going to be a candidate.”
That would be welcome for Hewitt, the former coach at Georgia Tech who landed at Mason in April after longtime Patriots coach Jim Larranaga departed for Miami.
The Mason roster doesn’t look quite like Hewitt envisioned it would when he took the job. Luke Hancock, who hit the winning shot in the Patriots’ NCAA tournament defeat of Villanova, transferred to Louisville. Guard Andre Cornelius is suspended for the first 10 regular-season games after he was charged in September with credit card fraud.
Pearson, though, provides a mainstay likely to keep the Patriots in the hunt for the first back-to-back NCAA bids in school history.
“He takes away from your sleep because you sit up at night thinking about how you can put him in different positions and situations where he can create a matchup problem,” said Hewitt, who likened Pearson to a couple of his old players, ex-Siena star Jim Cantamessa and former Georgia Tech forward Anthony McHenry. “He’s a major matchup problem. On top of being talented, he’s a very smart basketball player.”
There’s another influence of the Big Apple, where crafty play is always a way to maximize opportunities. The residue of his upbringing remains strong, and certain to help Mason as it starts a new era under Hewitt.
“I think I have a lot of New York in me,” Pearson said. “Born and raised there, didn’t leave until I came to college. I think it just carried over, even here. I think new York will always be in me, no matter where I’m at.”